The question that I seem to be asked the most lately has to do with demands for money after a shoplifting incident. What happens is if somebody has picked up or involved in a shoplifting incident and a week or so later they get a letter from a law firm representing the store demanding money and the question is do you pay this? The short answer is no but here's why:
The demand for payment is a civil demand and for an order to have any efficacy at all the store must first sue you and get a civil judgment. Retailers are not very likely to do this because it costs money to sue somebody and get a judgment and then have to engage in collection on that judgment. Assuming that one did not sign a “confession of judgment “or similar document ignore this kind of a letter. Remember that in any civil action the plaintiff which would be the store in this case has to show damages. What I am almost always told by my clients is that they were arrested just outside the door and that all the property that was taken was recovered – not very much by way of damages in this scenario.
You should always hire a lawyer to represent you in these kinds of cases since theft is a crime of moral turpitude and may hinder you in the future in terms of licensing and/or becoming a member of certain professions. Petty theft is generally a misdemeanor; however, it can have tremendous negative effects in the future. In some states, like California, petty theft with a prior conviction for petty theft is a felony. So word to the wise be careful